Join the ‘March for Homes’ in London This Saturday, January 31

The house made out of estate agents' boards erected outside Lewisham Council's offices in Catford, south east London, by the campaigning group People Before Profit, highlighting housing need in the borough (Photo: Andy Worthington).This Saturday I’ll be joining the “March for Homes” in London, as campaigning groups and individuals call for controls on the private rental market and protection for social housing — and, ideally, a massive, not-for-profit, social homebuilding programme. One group who will be attending is People Before Profit, who, at the weekend, raised this excellent little house outside Lewisham Council’s offices. Campaigners have been sleeping in it at night ever since, and in the daytime collecting signatures on a petition to Lewisham’s Mayor, Steve Bullock, and educating passers-by about the deplorable housing situation in Lewisham — replicated across London’s 32 boroughs, of course — and calling for local housing needs to be addressed, and not the profits of developers, who are all over Lewisham like a plague. Spokesman John Hamilton said, “We want all new housing to be affordable,” and also highlighted the 600 families currently living in temporary accommodation in the borough. “We need drastic action,” he added.

On Saturday, campaigners from across London — myself included — will be marching to City Hall — that odd little lop-sided egg near Tower Bridge, part of the horribly corporate More London development — to tell London’s addled Mayor, Boris Johnson, that drastic action is indeed needed on housing. That’s at 2pm, and is preceded by two marches beginning at 12 noon — one from south London and one from the east.

The south London meeting point (see the map here and the Facebook page) is St. Maryʼs Churchyard, just south of the Elephant & Castle, London SE1 6SQ (nearest tube/rail Elephant & Castle), the protected green space next to two new developments — to the north, ‘One the Elephant,’ a 37-storey tower — with no social housing component — that is being built by Lend Lease (the Australian developers who snapped up the Heygate Estate from the Labour Council for a mere £50m) and to the south, a 44-storey tower — 360 London — that Mace and Essential Living are building, which “will provide 462 units, of which 188 will be affordable” (but only once the word “affordable” has been twisted out of all shape to mean 80% of market rents; in other words, unaffordable for most ordinary working people). According to the London SE1 website, “It will contain one of the largest number of homes for long-term private rental in the country when complete.” In addition, “The Peabody Housing Trust has been appointed to manage the affordable housing element with 159 shared ownership and 29 rental units.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Burning Effigies of Tories and Protesting About Austerity and PFI at the Bonfire of Cuts in Lewisham

David Cameron: "We're all in this together"George Osborne: Stealing from the poor to give to the richTheresa May: "In tough times, everyone has to take their share of the pain"Jeremy Hunt: Selling off our NHS and closing our hospitalsBoris Johnson: Closing our fire stationsGordon Brown: Architect of the PFI catastrophe
Ed Balls: "PFI represents good value for taxpayers' money"David Cameron burnsIain Duncan Smith burnsBurn in Hell, David Cameron, George Osborne and Michael Gove

Burning Effigies of Tories at the Bonfire of Cuts in Lewisham, a set on Flickr.

On November 5, 2013 — Bonfire Night — I photographed effigies of members of the cabinet of the Tory-led coalition government — including David Cameron, George Osborne and others, as well as key Lib Dems and Labour politicians — as they were burned by activists in a brazier in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London. The caricatures were drawn by a member of the political group People Before Profit.

The activists in Lewisham were part of a day of action across the UK, in which numerous protestors held Bonfires of Austerity, initiated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, an anti-austerity coalition of activists, union members and MPs, to protest about the wretched Tory-led coalition government’s continued assault on the very fabric of the state, and on the most vulnerable members of society — particularly, the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled.

The borough of Lewisham, where I live, is famous for successfully resisting the government’s plans to severely downgrade services at the local hospital, and on Bonfire Night activists marched from Catford to an open space in the centre of Lewisham (by the main roundabout, and affectionately known as “the grassy knoll”), where they burned effigies of David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson. The protestors also burned effigies of the Lib Dems Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, key members of the disastrous coalition government, and Labour’s Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor. Read the rest of this entry »

Bonfires of Austerity: Anti-Tory Protests Across the UK on November 5, 2013

On November 5, activists across the UK will be holding Bonfires of Austerity to protest about the wretched Tory-led coalition government’s continued assault on the very fabric of the state, and on the most vulnerable members of society — particularly, the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled.

The British establishment has traditionally celebrated Guy Fawkes Night on November 5, marking the anniversary of the foiled plot by Guy Fawkes and others to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605, although nowadays, I’m glad to note, the anti-Catholic aspect of the festivities has largely disappeared, and the day is more generally known as Bonfire Night (even though bonfires are generally frowned upon in dull, modern-day, health and safety obsessed England).

Thankfully, the spirit of dissent lives on, and this year protests across the country have been initiated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, a movement of political activists, union members and the handful of enlightened MPs who exist in Parliament. The movement was launched with a letter published in the Guardian in February, with signatories including Tony Benn, Len McCluskey, Mark Serwotka, John Pilger, Ken Loach and the late Iain Banks, followed by a press conference in March, where speakers included Caroline Lucas MP, journalist Owen Jones, comedian Mark Steel and disabled activist Francesca Martinez, and a meeting attended by over 4,000 people in Westminster Central Hall in June, following meetings and rallies across the country, at which a statement was issued that began as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Appeal Court Victory for Lewisham Hospital – But Tories Respond with New Legislation to Close Dozens of Hospitals

On Tuesday, the year-long struggle to save Lewisham Hospital from butchers in the government — and in the senior management of the NHS — ended in victory for campaigners, when the Court of Appeal turned down an appeal by health secretary Jeremy Hunt. The government sought to overturn the High Court’s ruling, in July, that Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans for Lewisham put forward last October by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator.

Appointed under legislation for dealing with NHS trusts in severe financial difficulties (the Unsustainable Providers Regime), Kershaw had proposed closing A&E and other frontline services and selling off over half of Lewisham Hospital’s buildings and land as part of a package of proposals to address the financial problems of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which has three hospitals in south east London. The result would have been just one A&E Department for the 750,000 inhabitants of the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, and a disgraceful scenario in which 90 percent of the mothers in Lewisham (a borough with a population of 270,000) would have been unable to give birth in their home borough.

Responding to the news, Tony O’Sullivan, the Director of Services for Children and Young People at Lewisham, and a member of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, said, “This is a complete victory.” Referring to ministers and the Special Administrator, O’Sullivan added, “We always said they were acting unlawfully and undemocratically in using an emergency process to bypass meaningful consultation and destroy an excellent hospital.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Parade and Rally, September 14, 2013

Colourful campaigners outside Lewisham Hospital's A&E DepartmentLouise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaignThe Save Lewisham Hospital refuse vanHands off our A&EsVictory for everyoneThe Save Lewisham Hospital march reaches Ladywell Fields
Lewisham: The Fight Goes OnLewisham Victory MarchHelp us keep our hospitalSave Lewisham Hospital: Mayor Bullock speaks

Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Parade and Rally, September 14, 2013, a set on Flickr.

On Saturday September 14, six weeks after a High Court judge, Mr. Justice Silber, ruled that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital (see here and here), campaigners and supporters of the hospital — and of the NHS in general — gathered in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London, and marched past the hospital and on to Ladywell Fields, the park behind the hospital, for a celebration of the victory.

At the rally in Ladywell Fields, there were speakers, stalls, bands and a general air of celebration and solidarity that even the rainy weather couldn’t dispel. We are, after all, used to poor weather, as our first march against the proposals, which attracted 15,000 supporters on a Saturday last November, took place in the pouring rain (see here). I took the photos above, which I hope capture something of our general resilience, and our refusal to have our spirits dampened by the rain.

The victory over the Tories, and the senior management of the NHS behind the proposals to downgrade Lewisham, was certainly worth celebrating. The plans for Lewisham, approved by Hunt in January, had been put forward last October by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, in the first use of the Unsustainable Providers Regime, legislation for dealing with bankrupt trusts that was introduced by the last Labour government. Read the rest of this entry »

Save Lewisham Hospital: Events to Celebrate the Campaign’s Victory Over Jeremy Hunt

For campaigners in Lewisham, in south east London — and for defenders of the NHS across the country —  it has been a summer of celebration, since a great victory was declared in the High Court on July 31, and I draw your attention to three events taking place over the next few weeks — a victory parade and party, a fundraising night of dancing, and a trip to Manchester to protest outside the Conservative Party Conference.

Details of these events are below, but to provide some background, as I explained at the time of the victory, “Mr. Justice Silber, ruling on two judicial reviews submitted by Lewisham Council and the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, ruled that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital, including shutting its A&E Department, so that there would only be one A&E Department for the 750,000 inhabitants of the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, and cutting maternity services so severely that nine out of ten mothers in a borough of 270,000 people would have to give birth elsewhere.”

As I also explained:

The judicial reviews were launched when, in January, Jeremy Hunt approved the proposals for Lewisham, which were put forward last October by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, in the first use of the Unsustainable Providers Regime, legislation for dealing with bankrupt trusts that was introduced by the last Labour government. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Victory for the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign

Justice for Lewisham HospitalSave Lewisham Hospital campaignersA youthful campaigner for Lewisham HospitalHands off my hospital!Victory!A victory for Lewisham Hospital is a victory for everyone
We won!Victory in LewishamYou lose, Mr. Hunt!Brian Fisher GP celebrates Lewisham's victoryLouise Irvine GP celebrates Lewisham's victoryLewisham Hospital: Here to stay!

Victory for the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, a set on Flickr.

Here are my photos from yesterday’s celebrations by campaigners for Lewisham Hospital — myself included — outside the High Court, and then outside Lewisham Hospital, following a spectacular victory in the High Court after nine months of campaigning.

As I explained in my brief report yesterday, after I returned from the High Court, Mr. Justice Silber, ruling on two judicial reviews submitted by Lewisham Council and the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, ruled that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital, including shutting its A&E Department, so that there would only be one A&E Department for the 750,000 inhabitants of the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, and cutting maternity services so severely that nine out of ten mothers in a borough of 270,000 people would have to give birth elsewhere. Read the rest of this entry »

Lewisham Hospital Saved! Judge Rules Jeremy Hunt’s Downgrade Plans Unlawful

We won! Congratulations to the tens of thousands of campaigners who have been fighting to save Lewisham Hospital for the last eight months, since plans to severely downgrade services at the hospital were first announced.

Today in the High Court, Mr. Justice Silber, ruling on two judicial reviews submitted by the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign and Lewisham Council, ruled that the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, had acted unlawfully when he approved proposals by an NHS Special Administrator, Matthew Kershaw, to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital. The ruling is here.

This was a stunning victory for campaigners — myself included — who have fought the proposals for the last nine months, ever since they were announced at the end of October 2012 by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, based in the boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley, which was losing over £1m a week, partly through ruinous PFI deals. Read the rest of this entry »

Save Lewisham Hospital: The Submission to the Judicial Review by Dr. Helen Tattersfield, Chair of the CCG

Today is the 65th anniversary of the NHS, and I’d like to raise a toast to the visionary founders of the health service, who established a system of medical care for all of us, free at the point of entry and paid for out of general taxation, that has demonstrated, and continues to demonstrate, what a universal insurance system should look like.

The lives of my wife and my son were, without a doubt, saved by doctors and nurses in the NHS, and I am also grateful for those who saved me from a serious illness a few years ago. The medical emergencies we faced could have happened to anyone, rich or poor, but for 65 years the NHS has guaranteed that, regardless of how rich or poor you are, all will be treated equally.

The country that created the NHS, and that recognises its value, is the country I want to carry on living in, but it was hijacked 34 years ago by Margaret Thatcher, who was interested in private profit rather than the common good, and governments ever since have continued to behave as though all that counts is the profit of the few at the expense of the many — Tony Blair and New Labour being a particular disappointment.

For sheer destructive will, however, the Tory-led coalition government that has been laying waste to the country since May 2010 has taken the privatising zeal of Thatcherism and New Labour to hitherto unimagined depths. These butchers — mostly privately educated millionaires with a cesspit of mental health problems and a colossal grudge against the world — are determined to try and destroy the public ownership of almost every aspect of life in Britain, with one exception, ironically, being their own salaries.

The 65th anniversary of the founding of the NHS comes the day after two judicial reviews came to an end in the High Court, where, for three days, a judge heard lawyers for the government try to defend the unjustifiable decision, by senior NHS managers and the health secretary Jeremy Hunt, to savagely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital in south east London. Lewisham is my local hospital, and the plans to downgrade it would be devastating for the people of the borough, which has population of 270,000 people. Read the rest of this entry »

Save Lewisham Hospital: Hopes that the Judicial Reviews Will Find Downgrade Plans Unlawful

On Tuesday, a High Court judge, Sir Stephen Silber, began hearing two judicial reviews intended to prove that plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital in south east London — conceived and approved by senior NHS management and the Tory-led government — are unlawful.

The judicial reviews, submitted by the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, and Lewisham Council, which I discussed in detail here, follow a roller-coaster eight months since it was announced at the end of October 2012 that, as part of legislation dealing with bankrupt NHS trusts, an NHS Special Administrator, Matthew Kershaw — appointed in the summer to deal with the indebted South London Healthcare Trust, in the boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley — recommended that Lewisham, which is not in debt, and is unconnected to the SLHT, should merge with one of the SLHT’s three hospitals, the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, and have its A&E Department closed down, which currently receives 110,000 patients a year.

This is a drastic move that would then lead to the closure of all acute services, including the majority (90 percent) of all births in Lewisham, where 4,400 births currently take place every year, as well as Lewisham’s well-regarded children’s A&E, and other important frontline services.

With 270,000 inhabitants, and a growing population, the decision to force Lewisham’s residents to go elsewhere in an emergency is nothing short of madness. Getting to the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich involves a journey that, very literally, can take two hours by public transport at busy times, to a hospital that is already struggling with A&E waiting times, and the other options involve King’s in Camberwell or St. Thomas’s in Lambeth, neither or which has spare capacity. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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